Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Memories of The Dutchman and Go-Go

The triumvirate above, captured in a 1976 photo taken at a football game at Titan Stadium in Oshkosh, are about to inflict a live sports broadcast on an unsuspecting Fox Valley radio audience. That’s yours truly on the left, wearing a Vikings football jacket (don’t ask; I’m a lifelong Packers fan; the jacket was a gift and I still have it); in the middle is Dave Hoopman, my sax-playing compadre from the John Check band, who provided stats and analysis on the broadcasts; and on the right, in the Sox jacket, is Oshkosh-born former major league pitcher Bill Gogolewski, who made the color comments on the game.

And a colorful character he was.

Gogolewski pronounces his name the traditional Polish way, not the Americanized version. He’d say “see that ‘w’ in my name? It’s there, but it’s not pronounced”.  Actually, as I learned, he just didn’t want people to say go-go-LOU-skee, preferring go-go-LES-kee; but when he introduced himself to people, if you listened carefully, you could hear just the slightest “v” sound…go-go-lev-skee.  The story of how we came to be a broadcast team in ’75 and ’76 starts with another Oshkosh native, former National League umpire Lawrence “Dutch” Rennert.

Dutch spent his summers umpiring in the Pacific Coast League from 1965 to 1972, and in ’73 was called up to the majors where he had a great 20-year run.  In the dead of winter, when baseball wasn’t being played anywhere, Dutch would come back to Oshkosh and work as a referee for high school basketball games, which is where I first met him.  Before each game I broadcast, I’d always get the names of the officials if I didn’t know them. The first time I met Dutch he was officiating a game with the great Otto Puls, who said to me “you ought to know this guy, he’s from Oshkosh”. We often ran into each other in various sports circumstances (including the 1975 Major League All-Star game, at County Stadium in Milwaukee) and always had polite conversations.  We’d often talk about my high school baseball coach at Hortonville, Russ Tiedemann, who moved on to UW-Oshkosh and sent a bunch of guys (Jim Gantner to name one) off to careers in pro baseball.

The Dutchman, as everybody called him, had quite a career as a National League ump, including umping in three World Series and at two All-Star games. A 1983 New York Times poll named Dutch Rennert  the best umpire in the NL.  He essentially invented the colorful and animated “steee-rike” call – there are plenty of examples on YouTube you can easily find – and was the ump who, in August of 1990, ejected Reds manager “Sweet” Lou Piniella after arguing balls and strikes with him. It made Sweet Lou’s quick temper flare in perhaps the best (or worst) example in Major League history, when on his way to the showers Sweet Lou pulled first base off its mount and tossed it into the outfield.

Dutch, who spends most of his time in Florida now, lost vision in his left eye after the ’92 season, and that ended his career.

In the fall of ’75, Dutch called me at the radio station, and said “you know, Bill Gogolewski just retired from pro ball; he’s kicking around Oshkosh somewhere – you ought to give him a call and see if he wants to do some games with you”.  Long story short, Go-go (as everyone called him) was eager to get a chance to learn something about sports broadcasting, and also became a fine advertising salesman for the station.

Bill was born in Oshkosh on October 26th of 1947, played for Oshkosh High (back when there was only one high school in town), and was drafted in the 18th round in 1965 by the Washington Senators. He did his time in the minors, and was called up to the big leagues by the Senators in 1970.  That's a picture of Gogo as a rookie, above. At that time, he was paid the kingly sum of one thousand dollars a month ($12,000 annual total). I believe the major league minimum salary is now $480,000 a year.  Gogo was a relief pitcher for the Senators in ’70 and ’71; he wore uniform number 13.

In 1972, six unsuperstitious players in the big leagues wore #13; Go-go used to joke “two of the best pitchers in the majors in ’72 wore #13; I’m one, who’s the other”? The answer is John “Blue Moon” Odom. (In ’72 four other major leaguers wore #13….Dave Concepcion of the Reds, Doyle Alexander of the Orioles, Joe Ferguson of the Dodgers, and Dick Woodson of the Twins.)

Here’s a great baseball trivia photograph (above): Gogo’s 1974 baseball card, showing him in a Rangers uniform.  He was traded to the Rangers in ’72 and pitched for them for two seasons, but his baseball card photo for ’74 was taken just prior to the start of the season, and he was traded to the Indians when the season started, so he never actually appeared for the Rangers in ’74.

Gogo spent his last year in baseball in ’75 as a reliever with the White Sox.  He told me he was eternally grateful to his Sox pitching coach, the late great Johnny Sain, for getting him through the entire season. Gogo said his back and arm hurt so much he could hardly stand it, but Johnny Sain helped him make it to the end of the season, when he retired.

He never complained about his pain, but I knew it was there.  One time, when he thought he was alone in the radio station’s sales office and was getting ready to visit a client, I came in to talk to him about an upcoming sports broadcast.  He didn’t see me in the doorway, had his back to me, and bent down to pick up his briefcase – which weighed maybe 10 pounds.  He got it a few inches off the floor with his right arm, but quickly dropped it, let out a soft groan, and grabbed his arm.  I didn’t want him to know I saw it, so I quickly left.

Gogo was a fast learner; he caught on to sports broadcasting quickly, and I encouraged him to tell some of his great baseball stories during breaks in the game.  He had so many great stories; I can’t remember a single one, though.  After the broadcasts, we’d often end up at Repp’s Bar on the river in Oshkosh, where Gogo would tell some of the many “not suitable for broadcast” stories about his time in the big leagues.  He was a natural on the American Legion league baseball broadcasts we did in the summer of ’76; and he made great contributions to the many football and basketball games we did in those seasons.

Gogo still lives in Oshkosh, where he is the head of the City Parks Commission.  Great guy; great storyteller; I’m honored to have worked with him.